WHAT GOOD IS IT TO EXPOSE THEM WITHOUT BENEFIT FOR ANYONE

Eugene’s and the Oblates’ care for the victims of cholera was of a pastoral sacramental nature. The novices were unable to provide this type priestly ministry, and so Eugene want them out of harm’s way so that they can stay healthy in order to be ordained in the future. He asks for his mother’s help in this.

I am worried about our novitiate. There is nothing more fitting than that all priests stay to carry out their ministry zealously even at the peril of their lives; but all those young men who are the hope of the Congregation that I founded with such difficulty, to what good is it to expose them without benefit for anyone? I am entertaining an idea which I wanted to tell you and receive your reaction before mentioning it to anyone else. What if I were to send them to St-Laurent. They could sleep in the hayloft, for there are no beds, and they could live in the chateau, safe from any danger, and attend to their regular religious exercises.

Letter to his mother, 20 July 1835, EO VIII n 85

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YOU OWE IT TO YOUR FAMILY WHICH REQUIRES THIS FROM YOUR TENDER LOVE FOR IT

Eugene wrote to his mother asking her to leave Aix and the danger of infection immediately.

I don’t doubt, dear mother, that you have obeyed Tempier’s urgent request without hesitation: he tells me that he had urged you to go and join Eugenie at St-Martin, and to take Louis and Césarie with you. That is only reasonable; you must do this immediately. The cities are evidently infected; up to now, the country places, especially those far from the cities, are exempt from being infected. Don’t give in to anyone’s reasoning, no matter who it is. You must leave without the slightest delay. Good air is the best doctor, and in the cities it is infectious. Experience speaks louder than all resistance. There is too much danger in facing an evil that snuffs you out without warning. Leave immediately then, if you haven’t already done so. You owe it to your family which requires this from your tender love for it.

Letter to his mother, 20 July 1835, EO XIII n 85

He understood the importance of the love of a mother in a family – and from her and his father he had learnt his parental love for the Oblates and all those entrusted to his care.

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I GIVE MY UNRESERVED APPROVAL FOR OUR PRIESTS TO SACRIFICE THEMSELVES FOR THEIR BROTHERS’ SALVATION

All the Oblates gave themselves unreservedly to serving the victims of cholera. This brief text illustrates the meaning of “oblation.”

May God bless all our Fathers for their admirable though indispensable devotedness. Could one expect anything less from religious consecrated to live all the virtues to a heroic degree? I give my unreserved approval for our priests to sacrifice themselves for their brothers’ salvation.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 25 July 1835, EO VIII n 526

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AT EACH HOUR OF THE DAY AND NIGHT OUR FATHERS ARE EXPOSED TO INFECTION FROM THIS CRUEL EVIL THAT GIVES NO WARNING OF ITS COMING

Eugene’s anguish was not only for the victims of the cholera and their suffering families, but for all the members of his Oblate family who endangered themselves by ministering to those infected with this contagious disease. He thus wrote to every Oblate community asking them to pray for the welfare of one another

As the danger is constant and at each hour of the day and night our Fathers are exposed to infection from this cruel evil that gives no warning of its coming, at the end of every community exercise you will say together one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” with the “We fly to your patronage” and the prayer “Defend us”, one “Glory be” for our protector St. Joseph and an “Angel of God.” On all half-doubles you will say the collect, etc. “for the Congregation and family.” These are the prayers I am ordering in all our houses:

Because Father Mille and his community were at a Marian sanctuary, he added

you will add, by reason of your happy position at Mary’s feet, a daily visit in community to the sanctuary where you will recite with every ounce of fervour you have the Litany of our good Mother.

Assured that as an Oblate family they were strengthening each other in the face of danger, they could now minister in solidarity to those in need with renewed courage.

That done, we will throw ourselves with confidence into the bosom of divine Providence, submitting ourselves in advance with all our hearts to whatever plans it pleases him to make for us …

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 524

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I’M NOT AFRAID TO DIE WHILE FULFILLING THE DUTIES OF MY MINISTRY TO THE SICK

God is my witness that I’m not afraid to die of cholera, typhus, or the plague, granted that it is while fulfilling the duties of my ministry to the sick that I contract one of these evils.

Eugene first expressed this sentiment on the eve of his priestly ordination in 1811. Twenty-four years later, he continues to repeat his Oblate conviction that true oblation means being prepared to lay down one’s life for others as Jesus did.

On the contrary, I ardently desire that kind of death, for I think it would be a very good way to expiate my sins; so if I go to Marseilles, I’m going to throw myself unreservedly into the fray after three days’ retreat, to put my soul in order before God. I will carry out this plan the moment the danger becomes pressing.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 523

These are not idle words. In 1814 he had risked his life to minister to the dying Austrian prisoners of war and this “cooperator of the Savior” had almost died himself. (See EM speaks…..

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THE MISFORTUNE OF SO MANY FAMILIES TOUCHES ME DEEPLY

Eugene was no longer in Marseilles and his first instinct was to rush back to the city because the cholera had spread from Toulon and Aix to the city. Father Tempier wrote:

“The Bishop [Fortuné] really would like you to stay away from the epidemic’s influence, since you are absent in any case. We have just received a letter from the Mayor who would like us not to ring the bells as death knell for those who are dying, for he claims that the sound of the bells is frightening the people. Such a request is ridiculous; we haven’t taken any decision in this matter.” Letter of Henri Tempier to Eugene de Mazenod, 16 July 1835, EO2 n 70.

Eugene’s reply shows his distress and grief at the tragedy:

I am in such anguish to know that you are once again in the danger-zone that I would like to go and share it with you, for your own consolation and mine…
We are going to pray for you every day; tell my uncle how much I feel for him, for you and all our friends; the misfortune of so many families touches me deeply. Say just one word and I’ll be there.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 523

The life of Eugene was marked by how the suffering of others always impacted on him and compelled him to respond. He saw and experienced the world through the eyes of the crucified Savior, and his response was to try to be the cooperator of the Savior to those in need.

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I AM IN SUCH ANGUISH TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE ONCE AGAIN IN THE DANGER-ZONE

The cholera epidemic ended suddenly in Marseilles in April 1835 after having ravaged the city for 111 days. Three months later it broke out in the nearby harbor city of Toulon with multiple deaths each day. Two Oblates in Aix were preparing to go to Toulon to give spiritual assistance to the dying but were prevented from doing so on 16 July when the epidemic started in Aix en Provence.

Father Courtès wrote: “This day will always remain in the memory of the inhabitants; this morning at 4 the deadly cloud enveloped the city and by 10 am more than thirty victims were struck by cholera almost like a lightning strike. I was obliged to send two priests to the hospital to help the chaplain: all those with cholera were administered to, and half of them died. Father André returned home at 10 pm after hearing confessions for the whole day. The Major Seminary has been converted into a hospital.” (Quoted in Rey I p. 632)

Eugene was no longer in Marseilles, but at the Shrine of ND de l’Osier, and was informed of this by Father Tempier, to whom he responded:

My dear Father Tempier, your letters become more and more distressing. Today it’s the heartbreaking recital of the disasters caused by the cholera, and the possibility of the plague at Toulon, and the all too just fears that the proximity of the unfortunate infected city inspires in you. On this last count, I really need to have daily bulletins about the locality where you are living through a daily newspaper, like the “Gazette.” I hope you won’t have neglected to procure me this gloomy consolation … I am in such anguish to know that you are once again in the danger-zone…

Letter to Henri Tempier, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 523

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SO NOT FOR ME THE MUCH-DESIRED PALM OF THE MARTYRDOM OF CHARITY

For Eugene, oblation meant being prepared to give one’s life for Jesus -especially at the service of others. He had prayed for this oblational martyrdom from the time of his priestly ordination.

I will give you my news in brief. Cholera has not killed us all off. I confronted it as is my duty, if not without peril, at least without damage to my health. Every day I had to visit a number of the sick in the hospitals and private houses. God was always my help, and so not for me the much-desired palm of the martyrdom of charity.

Letter to Bishop Frezza in Rome, 27 April 1835, EO XV n 177

Eugene may not have achieved the martyrdom of charity, but attacks directed at him certainly caused a martyrdom in a different sense. Eugene had been banned from any public ministry in Marseilles as bishop, but because of the urgency of the situation, the Prefect realized that he was needed and turned a blind eye. At the end of the epidemic, however, the situation both with the civic authorities and with some rebellious priests broke out again. Eugene, who had had his French citizenship removed was worried about drawing to much attention to his presence in Marseilles and consequently being expelled from France. He decided to withdraw from Marseilles and go to live in Oblate communities outside of Provence. Leflon explains:

“In June, the latter had submitted his resignation as vicar-general and had left Marseilles to administer ordinations and confirmation in the dioceses of Aix and Avignon. During his absence, some priests who were justly disciplined, attacked him in the press before the state council; one of them was Jonjon, who published in the anti-clerical Semaphore an outrageous article entitled Justice of the Bishopric of Marseilles. Another was the pastor of Aygalades; deprived of his pastoral powers because he had become unbearable to his parishioners and had brought the newspapers, his parish, and the officials of Aix, into the quarrel and had appealed to the king and the Pope. Finally, the prefect of Vaucluse became alarmed by the activity displayed in his department by a prelate “who has made himself notorious in the South because of his fanatic principles and his ultramontane scheming.” The Semaphore, which championed these two rebels, even went so far as to forge a letter from His Eminence, Cardinal Pacca, to the Bishop of Icosia, “complaining of his bad administration of the diocese . . . and strongly reproaching him for the shameful way he treats priests.” The newspaper even added that, in view of the “continued complaints about him reaching Rome from both the priests and the government,” the Cardinal admonished him to leave Marseilles and even the kingdom. That explains why the Bishop of Icosia was missing from the Corpus Christi processions and “has not been able to parade around Marseilles.”

Leflon 2 p 491-492.

Despite all this, Eugene was able to proclaim constantly, “God was always my help!”

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A PRACTICAL RESPONSE TO THE EFFECTS OF THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC

Eugene’s biographer, Rey, describes something that we will see regularly in the future: Eugene’s ability to identify a group of people who were “the most abandoned” and to take practical steps to rectify the cause. In this case the group was the children who had been left orphans when their parents died of cholera. Rey’s vocabulary is a bit flowery, but it conveys the powerful message.  I quote the passage in its entirety.

“He never ceased, however, to deal with the cholera and the dreadful consequences which had resulted from it, and which manifested themselves daily. On April 5, he had summoned to the bishopric the most distinguished ladies of the Marseilles society to have them adopt, in principle, the foundation of an asylum for children who had been fatherless and motherless, following the cholera. At this meeting, where the brave bishop electrified his audience – which was common to him in all circumstances … It was a preparatory meeting: the ladies consulted and stimulated by the eloquent words of the Prelate, they raised the funds necessary to the immediate adoption of several orphans. A new meeting was announced in the church of St. Vincent de Paul on May 19, the first day of the Rogations. The church was too small to receive the multitude of the faithful attracted by the desire to hear the message of the Bishop of Icosia and to contemplate the spectacle that offered at the feet of the altars, the assembly of Lady Patronesses and young orphans. We would like to reproduce the words of the speaker; they were collected by gratitude; we will confine ourselves to the quotation of a passage which shed the tears of all:

“Here they are, ladies, those innocent creatures which your charity consents to adopt under the auspices of Providence; Here they are dressed in their mourning clothes, which attests to their misfortune. You have made them feel all that they can expect from your mothers’ hearts, and already theirs beat at that name full of charm that they dared no longer pronounce. They extend to you their supplicating hands, to you, ladies who are so good, so tender, compassionate, say better, so eminently Christian. Ah! Ladies, I understand your emotion! Our poor children are saved!
“Yes, I see you pressing them against your maternal bosom, and in this delicious transport of a most divine charity, lavish on them your caresses, give them with your affection, not only the food necessary to sustain their lives, but some something more precious, for I see you preparing them for an education which, assuring their happiness in this life and in the other, will crown all the care you want to take from their young years.
” Almighty God. God most holy, God infinitely good, favor from heaven’s height this admirable adoption which delights my soul with joy, makes my tears flow and excites my gratitude.
 “And you, adorable Jesus, our divine master here present, bless from your tabernacle this nascent work; bless those children whom your Providence has just placed under the tutelary mantle of those who represent her here below.
“Bless these Christian ladies, so worthy of this beautiful name, whom they honor by so many virtues;
“Bless also those humble religious who will dedicate their best years to the relief, the instruction and the sanctification of these children whom we entrust to them today”.
The work was founded. The blessings descended on her cradle have never abandoned her.
Rey I p 619 – 620.
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GOD HAS BEEN GLORIFIED IN THE PUBLIC PRAYERS WE PRESCRIBED.

Cholera had ravaged Marseilles for 111 days with a death toll of thousands.

God has been glorified in the public prayers we prescribed. The doctors were forecasting a frightful recurrence of the disease, and instead, as if to mock their predictions, God has sent it packing with a puff of wind; the epidemic came to a complete end with the novena of solemn adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For me and all those with faith this is a clear miracle, more marvelous than that of the resurrection of a dead person. If the Holy Father is unaware of these things, you might speak of them, believe me you will not be guilty of exaggeration.
The two processions of the Blessed Sacrament, on the first and last days of the novena, each lasted five hours. My uncle, in light of his 85 years, left me to preside over the ceremonies. There were twelve thousand people, torches in hand, in the procession; and on the square, where the final benediction was given, more than eighty thousand people. You can just imagine the effect of so many voices during the “Tantum ergo,” in that huge church with the heavens as its cupola, and stretching as far as the eye could see; tears streamed down people’s faces. From that moment I knew we were being heard.
It is a fine compensation for my sufferings to see God glorified in this way, so many souls converted, and our town healed by these all-powerful means employed by infinite mercy.

Letter to Bishop Frezza in Rome, 27 April 1835, EO XV n 177

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